Be Somebody!

The National Graduate Orientation Programme is over. And 1,300 graduates have now entered the workforce. I didn’t get to congratulate them. So I’ve decided to write about what I would have talked about had I been given the opportunity to meet them.

First, I would have talked about employment. Then I would have talked about the role of the opposition.

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Be somebody! Sound familiar?

Be somebody! Remember this hand signal? Clenched fist, thumb upright?

Yes, of course you do. It’s from the career counseling tour in 2002, seven years ago. Yes, seven years ago – I can’t believe that that’s how long it’s already been – when Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup visited every high school in the country to talk to our students about what they wanted to do in life. I was a part of the multi-sectoral task force that accompanied Lyonpo Sangay in 2002.

You were in school that year, all of you. Most of you would have been in class 8 or 9. So you probably would have attended the career counseling workshop. Chances are you don’t remember my presentation. But then again, chances are you may remember something I said. And what did I say? Be somebody!

Now you’ve graduated – one thousand, two hundred and sixty four of you. You have graduated with degrees in business, commerce, IT, management, science, engineering, medicine, philosophy, architecture, and a range of specializations in the arts. Well done. Congratulations!

It hasn’t been easy, I know. I’ve met some of you. And you’ve told me so. You’ve had to work hard and study long hours. And most of you have had to struggle in foreign lands – in India and beyond. Some of you have had to borrow money to finance your studies.

But you graduated. And now you are ready to serve your king, your country and your people. You are ready to be somebody!

During the orientation programme, a lot of people have talked to you about employment, and described the many job opportunities that you have. They are right. You see, our country has barely six hundred thousand people. That’s not enough people. In fact, one of the biggest challenges we continue to face is a shortage of workers in almost every field. We simply don’t have enough people to grow our own food, build our homes, teach our children, care for our sick, do business, and to protect our country.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to do. And that’s why I’m particularly happy to see that we have so many young graduates this year. You represent the new Bhutanese workforce – a workforce that is knowledgeable; a workforce that is productive; a workforce that will unleash the true potential of Bhutan.

But many people have also cautioned you about unemployment. This is unfortunate. Like I said, we have too few people. So we really shouldn’t have any unemployment. Yet, there is. And, as a matter of fact, it is growing.

Why is this happening? Mainly because of two inter-related reasons: one, we do not accept the jobs that exist; and two, our economy is weak. Put another way: Our economy is weak, so it generates only a few jobs. But when even these jobs remain vacant, our economy becomes weaker. And a weaker economy offers even less jobs. It’s a vicious cycle, one that we can reverse, one that we must reverse.

To reverse this trend, we must strengthen our economy. We have no other alternative. And that responsibility falls primarily on our government. But we have important roles too. As opposition leader, for instance, I must work with the government to support real and sustainable growth in our economy. This, I will pledge do.

And you, as graduates, can help strengthen the economy – can be part of the solution – by taking employment very seriously. Look for jobs, not just in the civil service, but especially in the private sector. Work hard. And make sure that you are productive. Make sure that you contribute to building our economy.

Seven years ago, during the career counseling tour, I asked you what “Be somebody!” meant to you. This is how most of you replied: a “somebody” is a person who is useful to self, to family and to country; a “somebody” is a person who is gainfully employed.

Be somebody!

Graduating students

Well oriented

Well oriented

About 1,300 graduates are currently attending this year’s National Graduate Orientation Programme. And, like last year, the opposition party has not been included in the programme.

So today, when I heard that the graduates were hosting a cultural show for the public, I rushed to the Nazhoen Pelri. I’m glad I went. Our graduates are obviously talented. And they put on quite a show. From boedra and rigsar to Bhutanese rock and hip hop, the graduates entertained us with a range of performances. Not bad, considering that they’ve been together for barely ten days.

The chief counselor, Namgyal Dorji, told me that the proceeds from the cultural show will go to a charity. Good job.

Congratulations to all graduates for a wonderful performance. This week’s banner, a photo from the cultural show, celebrates the 2009 graduates.

Youngten Lempen Tharchen, an NGOP participant and a temporary reporter at Bhutan Today, has been writing about this year’s graduate orientation on his blog.

Returning graduates

Since the start of planned modern development in our country, one of our biggest constraints to progress has been the consistent shortage of human resources. We simply did not have enough skilled and qualified people required to initiate and sustain development. So when our students studying in India and beyond returned home after they graduated, we welcomed them back eagerly. And we were proud of the fact that they – almost every single one of them – chose to return home instead of working abroad.

Not any more. Recently, 100 graduates completed a month-long training at Infosys. 37 of them were offered jobs in India. But of them, only 9 have accepted the offers. The rest want to work in Bhutan. We, however, want them to work in India. Lyonpo Nandalal Rai reportedly spent an hour trying to persuade them that they should “not waste such an opportunity”. And many of us, led by the media, have quickly cast them as ungrateful youth who are “shaming the country.”

We’ve stopped welcoming back our graduates with open arms. Instead, we’re encouraging them to work in India.  And if, for whatever reason, they don’t, we attack them. I am concerned.

True, unemployment is real. The government estimates that there are already about 13,000 unemployed youth, the majority of them between the ages of 15 and 24. But shaming our youth into accepting foreign jobs is not the solution. Instead, we should see them as a scarce resource, which, indeed, they are. And we should make full use of this resource to strengthen our economy which, after decades of modern development, is still largely dependent on foreign aid and loans.

Graduates who chose to work in Bhutan are not the problem. They are part of the solution. Without them – and there are another 1,330 graduates currently attending an orientation – it would be virtually impossible to develop the vibrant economy that we badly need.

The government is building an IT park, our first, in Babesa. This is good news. Some of us are concerned that the refusal of the graduates to accept the Infosys and Genpak jobs in India will discourage international businesses from investing in the IT park. The opposite may, in fact, be true. We can now convince potential investors that we have enough qualified graduates. And, more importantly, that they prefer to work in Bhutan.

A big problem

We have a problem. In our last poll, 94% of you claimed to either know or think that drug abuse is already a problem in Bhutan. On the other hand, only 5% of you said that drug abuse is not a problem in our country. 1% admitted that they don’t have a clue.

I suspected that substance abuse was growing, especially among out youth. But, I had no reason to think that it was already a problem. The poll results have forced me to rethink my views – that’s why I kept the poll up for so long. Next week, I plan to discuss this issue with the government including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency. I’ve also arranged to meet some youth.

This week’s poll asks: “how prepared are we to cope with disaster?”

Unemployment: a big problem?

Somehow, during the last few weeks I’ve bumped into several young unemployed people. All of them complained that they tried hard, but couldn’t get jobs. Some of them were continuing to aggressively seek work. But some had given up.

I’ve also bumped into two groups of youth who are themselves employed, but are thinking about starting something that would help other young people get jobs. These two groups are unrelated. They don’t know each other. But both groups are so convinced that unemployment is already a major problem that they have decided that they may have to take matters into their own hands.

So is unemployment already a big problem? You tell me. I launched this week’s poll, on unemployment, yesterday.

Golden youth

For more than three decades, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo traveled to every part and every corner of our country to meet the children of Bhutan. And everywhere our king went, from community schools to Sherbutse, our nation’s “peak of learning”, He commanded: “The future of our country lies in the hands of our youth.”

To honour and to celebrate our fourth king’s boundless love for and confidence in our youth, the Youth Development Fund started the Golden Youth Award a few years ago. This annual award essentially recognizes children who excel at school – in both, the classroom and playground – and the community.

The day before yesterday, in Phuentsholing, Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, recognized our first batch of “golden youth”. They are:

Tshering Dhendup, Class VI, Samdrup Jonkhar MSS
Meghna Upreti, Class VI, Khuruthanng MSS
Phub Dorji, Class VIII, Yangchenphug HSS
Tsheyang Choden, Class VIII, Shari HSS
Tshewang Gyeltshen, Class X, Yangchenphug HSS
Nikey Subba, Class X, Khuruthang MSS
Dawa Gyeltshen, Class XII, Samtse HSS
Ugyen Lhamo, Class XII, Yangchenphug HSS

I congratulate each and every one of them for being “golden youth”, and for making their classmates, their schools, their parents, and, most importantly, their kings, proud of them.

Well done. Keep it up. Tashi Delek!

Student on ice

Nishtha Sinha is Bhutan’s first student to visit Antarctica.

Nishtha, an Indian, studies in Lungtenzampa MSS. So she represented two countries – Bhutan and India – when she participated in the 15-day Antarctic University Expedition 2009.

The expedition, which ended yesterday, was organized by Students on Ice, a unique program that takes students, teachers and scientists to Antarctica and the Arctic to learn about and to develop respect for the world’s ecosystem.

Nishtha, along with other student researchers from high schools and universities from a dozen countries, blogged from their “school” onboard the research ship, MV Ushuaia. Her second blog can be read here.

Well done Nishtha. And well done Lungtenzampa MSS.

Photo from www.studentsonice.com

Treasure hunting

I met Tobgay today. He’s nine years old and has just completed Class II in Dechechencholing MSS. He was rummaging through my negibour’s waste.

In fact, Tobgay was recycling garbage. He was collecting various tins and bottles, and plastics and metals to sell to a scrap dealer in town. His part-time work would fetch him Nu 5 per kg for iron, steel and certain plastics; Nu 1 for every beer bottle; and Nu 30 per kg for aluminum cans. That’s easy money, he confided, because there’s always plenty of recyclable garbage.

Yesterday he and his friends earned Nu 130. They spent most of that money playing video games and eating. But today he plans to be a bit more cautious – he wants to buy a pair of jeans.

Thimphu’s garbage is screaming for better waste management. And the message is loud and clear: reduce, reuse, and recycle – we can’t afford not to!

Learning taekwondo

Galek, my daughter, attends taekwondo classes twice a week. This is one of the activities organized by her school for their students during the winter holidays. Galek loves it.

I accompanied her yesterday. I wanted to see how good she’d become. Instead I got to see how good our boys are.

Galek’s coach, Sir Kinley, had called his friends to do a short demonstration for his students. They put on quite a show – performing complicated moves, perfectly choreographed fights, breaking wooden boards and smashing apples blindfolded. Galek and her friends enjoyed the performance. That was the idea. I was enthralled. They are good.

The boys, all sporting black belts, are mainly students. They are members of our national team and they meet every day to train together. They are committed. And most of them have already decided to become taekwondo coaches.

A senior member of the group, Kinley Tshering, 21 years, class 12 in Rinchen HSS, has been learning taekwondo for the last 14 years. He started under Master Tharchen even before he joined school!

Kinley and his friends need and deserve the government’s support. The stipend they used to get as members of our national team has been withdrawn – it needs to be reinstated; and they should have access to scholarships to continue training after high school. Otherwise, it will be difficult to sustain their interest. And that won’t be good for the new taekwondo enthusiasts, one of whom is practicing her kicks and punches even as I post this entry.

Good luck

950 university graduates have registered to appear for the Civil Service Common Examinations. Written exams for Technical and Dzongkha graduates begin today. General graduates start theirs on the 23rd.

After years of studies, tests and interviews, it is the Common Exams which will determine their immediate futures and, in many cases, their destinies.

I wish all of them the BEST OF LUCK!